In Myanmar Speech, Pope Does Not Reference Rohingyas Pope Francis called for peace in a speech in Myanmar on Tuesday, but he did not mention the country's minority Rohingya population. Rachel Martin talks to journalist Michael Sullivan about the speech.
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In Myanmar Speech, Pope Does Not Reference Rohingyas

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In Myanmar Speech, Pope Does Not Reference Rohingyas

In Myanmar Speech, Pope Does Not Reference Rohingyas

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot of people were anxiously listening to a speech that Pope Francis made this morning. The pope is in Myanmar. He's been meeting with the country's civilian, military and religious leaders, and the reason so many people were paying close attention is because there was a big question about what the pope would say about violence against that country's Rohingya Muslims. Reporter Michael Sullivan has covered the Rohingya's plight. He joins us on Skype from Chiang Rai, Thailand. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: You're welcome, Rachel.

MARTIN: What did Pope Francis say in this address?

SULLIVAN: It's what he didn't say, I think, that's causing the most concern among human rights activists. He did not use the word Rohingya, and that's something that he's used before, but he was urged before this trip by the cardinal in Myanmar not to use that word because it's so inflammatory to the Buddhist majority in the country. And I think the cardinal locally was worried about what repercussions that might have for the local Catholics in the country. So so far he's avoided the use of the word Rohingya while he's been in Myanmar even though he's used it before, but his trip isn't over yet either, right?

MARTIN: Yeah. So we should just mention, though, the military and civilian leaders in Myanmar, they don't use the word Rohingya because they want to make sure that everyone understands that these people are foreigners. Am I explaining that right?

SULLIVAN: Yes. They call them Bengalis. They don't recognize them as citizens of Myanmar. And this is part of the problem, right? But in the last several months, 600,000 of these people, many of whose families have lived there for centuries, have fled the brutal crackdown by Myanmar's military in Myanmar, and now they're on the other side of the border in Bangladesh. And they would like to go back if there are assurances that they will, one, be safe, and, two, that they will be treated as citizens. And so far, that hasn't happened, and that's really at the root of this.

MARTIN: So what does it mean that the pope did not use the word? I mean, he's clearly walking a tight line here trying to, on the one hand, not inflame and infuriate the rulers of Myanmar. But by leaving it out, is he sanctioning the violence? Clearly not. But he's not taking as nearly as strong a stand as human rights activists would have wanted him to.

SULLIVAN: Or as he has in the past with other minorities, I think. So it's a problem for him, and I think it's one that he's wrestled with before he came. And when he got there, he was very careful. What I think human rights activists are hoping now is, as I said earlier, that the trip isn't over yet, that maybe he will bring the word Rohingya. He did say - you know, he did speak to the issue of people getting along together. He said, "the future of Myanmar must be a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society," - I'm quoting him here - "respect for each ethnic group and its identity, and respect for the rule of law and democratic order." So maybe he's leading up to something on the way out, but for now, I don't think he wants to antagonize his hosts because public sentiment in Myanmar right now is very much against the Rohingya and he knows it, and I think he needs to protect his local flock of Catholics. But of course that begs the question, what are you really going to do here?

MARTIN: Reporter Michael Sullivan talking to us from Chiang Rai, Thailand, where he's been monitoring the pope's speech in Myanmar today. Thanks so much, Michael.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Rachel.

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